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All You Ever Wanted To Know About Aspect Ratios Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

29 January 2018

You don't want to know about aspect ratios? Really? Because, you know, what you don't know about aspect ratios will bite you in the end, as we like to put it.

Take the other evening, for example.

We were just finishing pizza with some friends when Agnes asked us, "Can I show you something, Mike?"

We had no objection as long as we didn't have to get out of our chair.


So Agnes went over to the couch, got her purse and retrieved one of those photo service envelopes that contains prints. It was like from another era. But she'd just been to Costco and used the kiosk to print a couple of group photos.

The content has to fit the container.

For some reason, she complained, the prints both had bad crops. On one, heads were chopped off the top. And on the other four people were completely cropped out of the group photo.

"Why?" she wanted to know.


Master of Aspect Ratios that we are, we knew without looking as soon as she told us what size prints she was making for her sister Alexa. "Alexa wants 4x6 prints," she told us.

Because Alexa was not going to spring for bigger frames, we suspected.

But here cometh the rub. The first photo's aspect ratio was 4:5 and the second photo was 16:9. And, if you know how to play this game (divide by two as long as you can), the 4x6 print's aspect ratio would be 2:3.

Those are all different numbers, you will realize, but what they mean is that those are all different shapes.

And just as you cannot fit a round peg in a square hole, you cannot fit a 4:5 into a 2:3.

Without cropping, that is.


We don't know the kiosk Costco uses (they won't let us in the place to check). But Agnes described the process very clearly. Connect your thumbdrive, select the image you want to print, select the size and tell it how many copies.

Nothing about cropping or not cropping (which might be called Full Crop). So they got cropped.

On the 4:5 photo, the top and bottom of the frame was evenly sheared, cutting off some heads at the top as the sides were filled. On the 16:9, the two people on each end were sheared when the top and bottom were stretched to fill.

The 4:5 Problem. White is the 4x6 print, red the machine crop and green the preferred crop.

With a Full Crop option, the 4:5 would have had a white, unprinted area on both sides and the 16:9 on the top and bottom.

But that wasn't ideal either.

So we took Agnes down to the bunker to demonstrate her choices using the Crop tool in Photoshop CC.

We cropped the 4:5 (which, we pointed out, would have been ideal for an 8x10 print, since that's also a 4:5 ratio) to a 2:3, including all of the top where the heads were and slicing off the bottom (see the above illustration).

We didn't change the crop on the 16:9 because, well, that's really beyond help. We simply printed it within the boundaries of a 4x6 with the white space at the top and bottom.

The 16:9 Problem. White is the 4x6 print, red the machine crop and green the preferred crop.

We suggested Alexa buy a mat for it that would fit in a larger frame. But we have a hunch she'll frame it just the way it is.


You can play this game at home before you go to the kiosk by using your image editor's Crop tool to conform to a 2:3 aspect ratio for a 4x6 print. And if you're working with a more horizontal format like 16:9, you can create a new 2:3 aspect ratio canvas and resize the image to fit within its bounds.

But either way the content has to fit the container. And if the shapes differ, you have some work to do.

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